My Own Backyard

I'm sure you've heard stories of people who have lived their whole lives next to some big-time tourist attraction, but rarely, if ever, visit. In my first video, I mentioned that I lived in Arizona for over 25 years, and in all that time, I visited the Grand Canyon only three times. That's a travesty! Now that I live in Northern Virginia, guess what's practically in my backyard? That's right... I managed to spend the day in our nation's capital.

My goal for the day was two-fold; I had an invitation to go see a friend's play at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts (she was finishing up her last year there), so that was number one on my list. Number two was visiting The Anderson House, which is the international headquarters of The Society of the Cincinnati. To be quite frank, I was more interested in the house than learning about the actual Society — I'm a bit of an architecture admirer — but the history behind the Society and house itself was quite interesting.

But we'll get to that in a minute. After all, you simply can't go to D.C. and just bypass all the monuments. There was no way I was getting to them all in one day. Heck, getting to a tenth of them in one day is impressive. I've spent entire days in one wing of the Smithsonian's American History Museum alone. D.C. in general is not something you can do in just one day. As my friend’s play wasn’t even starting until 8 p.m., I decided to spend the day playing tourist.

I started by taking the Metro down to the National Mall, and getting off at the Smithsonian station. I wanted to start my day with a visit to the Washington Monument. I had half a thought that as it was a Friday, and school was back in, that I could not only visit the monument, but maybe go to the top as well.

Alas.

Currently the Washington Monument is closed for repairs to its elevator. It has already been closed for two years, and is going to stay closed until at least 2019. You'd think I would've known this. Guess I'll try to visit later.

Also, it was crowded! I was surprised at the number of kids and families around. I figured the kids were all back in school! Turns out it was just my county that started school, causing me to think it wouldn't be as crowded as it was. Live and let learn I guess!

After that, I walked down to the World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial, which included the Three Service Men and Vietnam Women's Memorial. After walking through the Constitution Gardens, it was time to make my way to The Anderson House.

Washington monument Vietnam womens memorial Three soldiers

The Anderson House was the residence of Larz and Isabelle Anderson. Completed in 1905 in the Florentine style, it cost $750,000 (over $21 Million in today’s dollars) to build. The house is over 50,000 square feet, has four floors, 95 rooms, and features hand-carved wood walls, guilded paper maché ceilings, and marble floors.

When you first arrive at the house, you’re greeted with two huge gates that lead to a shallow court yard. It wasn’t hard to image first carriages, and later cars pulling up to the front door and deposting guests of high society. In their time, the Anderson’s hosts Presidents Taft and Coolidge, the Vanderbilts, Henry du Pont, and Gen. Pershing.

Touring through the house, I was impressed by many of the large rooms and original tapestries adorning the walls. Some of those tapestries were from the 1600s! Amazing to see such fine needlework still holding up well after 400 years. The artwork and was an eclectic mix of European, Greek, and Japanese, along with artifacts from various religions.

Anderson 3 Anderson 4 Anderson 1 Anderson 2

Larz Anderson was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, and when he passed in 1937, his wife donated the house to the Society to use as their international headquarters. The Society itself is dedicated to the memory of the achievement of the American soldiers who fought for this country’s independence. It is the oldest private patriotic organization, as well as the first hereditary institution in the United States. To become a member, you must have had a relative who was a commissioned officer who served in the Continental Army or Navy, or be a descendent of their French counterparts. You must also be male.

The house and the Society have a fascinating, intertwined history. It was well worth the time, and given that the tour and entry to the house is free, you can’t beat the price. If you have a chance, I strongly suggest adding this to your must-see list when in Washington D.C. next time!

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